Aqualinc aids in joint NASA-Air NZ Rongowai mission

Science Payload Operations Centre

Photo: Science Payload Operations Centre, University of Auckland.

Aqualinc are contributing to the success of the joint NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration / Air New Zealand/ NZ Space Agency Rongowai mission, being led by Professor Delwyn Moller from the University of Auckland.

In a world-first, Air New Zealand flight NZ8844 took off on Tuesday 13 September from Christchurch to Nelson carrying a NASA next-generation satellite receiver.

Using direct and reflected GPS and Galileo signals, the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receiver will collect unique environmental data to better predict storms and enable new climate change research.

Air New Zealand is the first passenger airline in the world to join a NASA earth mission, working together since 2020 on the design, installation, and certification of the receiver onboard one of its Q300 aircraft.

Aqualinc researchers are part of the team monitoring soil moisture in situ at multiple locations in Northland and Auckland regions. Aqualinc’s Research Director, Dr John Bright, says ground-based data is critical for calibrating and validating models used to calculate soil moisture content from remote sensing data from Air New Zealand aircraft and NASA’s CYGNSS satellites.

The Rongowai (Sensing water) mission is a partnership between the New Zealand Space Agency, Air New Zealand and New Zealand and US universities. The aim of the mission is to monitor the environmental signs of climate change over Aotearoa New Zealand.

The University of Auckland has established a Science Payload Operations Centre to receive and process the data in what could become New Zealand's largest source of environmental data. Project Lead, Professor Delwyn Moller, says the collaboration will put Kiwi scientists at the forefront of this emerging field.

"The data produced by this collaboration will be made publicly available, opening up a range of research possibilities, with many potential uses – from flood risk management to agriculture and resource planning."

The data collected will also feed into NASA's Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS). Dr Will McCarty, NASA's CYGNSS Program Scientist in the agency's Earth Science Division, says the data from Air New Zealand flights will extend the CYGNSS mission to monitor environmental changes over land.

"CYGNSS bounces GPS signals off the ocean to measure wind speeds to help predict hurricanes and cyclones. Over land, the technology can determine soil moisture levels, so it can also monitor climate change indicators such as drought, flooding and coastline erosion.

"The receiver that Air New Zealand is flying has advanced capabilities with the potential to be used for future space bound missions, so we're excited to test these out."

More information

Find out more about Aqualinc.

Find out more about the Rongowai Mission.

Date posted: 19 September 2022

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